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Picture Books, Early Readers, & Chapter Books: What’s the Difference?

All these publishing words can get confusing! What’s the difference between picture books, early readers, and chapter books? Aren’t they the same or similar? Not exactly. Let’s talk about what these terms really mean.


Picture books

What are the defining features of a picture book?

Pictures books are written with young audiences in mind. They include illustrations or images on every page, and these are considered just as important—or, in some cases, even more important—than the text. This is something all authors and illustrators should keep in mind. Picture book illustrations help children develop visual literacy skills that can help with critical thinking and reading comprehension later on.

Picture books usually target preschool-aged children, which means that they must feature simple plots with clear resolutions. Most picture books are under 1,000 words long. The younger your audience, the shorter your book should be.

Picture books should use simple, easy-to-understand language that young children can engage with, but authors are free to use one or two big vocabulary-testing words, as most pictures are read aloud by parents and educators. That means that the way a picture book narrative sounds matters just as much as the way it looks on the page.

Examples: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Early readers

If that’s a picture book, what’s an early reader?

Early readers are the first steps in independent reading. They’re written for early school-aged children who are ready to start testing their own literacy skills. Early reader books still feature illustrations, but these are often much smaller and printed in black and white.

Children who read early reader books are ready for slightly more complex narratives and text that is broken up into short chapters or sections. Still, early readers are short enough to maintain the attention of young learners. Authors writing chapter books should aim for a word count of 1,500−2,000 words max.

What matters most in an early reader book is the text, which should be clear, concise, and easy for beginning readers to follow along with. Most words should already be familiar to young children, and they should be easy to sound out (where possible, avoid silent letters!) Using a large-print sans serif font can help to improve simplicity and accessibility of text.

Examples: Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

Chapter books

Finally, chapter books!

Chapter books target intermediate independent readers, usually from ages 7 to 10. While chapter books may include some black-and-white illustrations, these are unlikely to appear on every page; the story is in the text.

Chapter books include (you guessed it) chapters! Children who read chapter books are old enough to return to a book after a break rather than needing stories that can be read in one sitting. Short chapters help to indicate good stopping points and changes in scene, tone, or subject. Most chapter books are between 1,500 and 5,000 words long.

Authors who write chapter books need to know how to keep children engaged with a fun, entertaining, fast-paced plot that is more complex than that of a picture book or early reader but not quite as advanced as what might appear in a middle grade fiction book. Often, chapter books are further subcategorized by grade or reading level, and these subcategories offer a guide to the language and sentence structure choices authors should make.

Examples: Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl


Did this post teach you something about the different between picture books, early readers, and chapter books? Which do you enjoy writing most?

At Wildflower Books, we offer a range of editing and proofreading services. We specialize in children’s fiction, from picture books and YA novels, and have helped many authors create fantastic books. If you’d like to learn more about your editing options, we’d love to hear from you. Send us an email today!

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